Fewer than 10 percent of the men and women who served in World War II are still with us; it’s been estimated that 700 WWII vets pass away every day. And yet so many of our Greatest Generation have never seen the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., have never traced the gold stars representing the brethren who fell in battle with their fingertips.
Last September, director Grant Thompson organized the first Indy Honor Flight out of Indianapolis, carrying around 80 veterans to Washington for free. The non-profit program allows them to see this tribute to their service and sacrifice before it is too late—though that time has passed for my grandfathers.
Ray Steele Sr. died in Trenton, Georgia, in 1978. He was only 53. He was lucky he didn’t die more than three decades earlier in Europe, when he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and saw the sickening Dachau concentration camp when it was liberated. He was my grandfather, Papa Bear—I wasn’t quite 7 when he passed away.
Raymond Lee Steele was my other grandfather (no Southern jokes, please—two different sets of Steeles, I promise). He died in 1987, at 61 years old. He could’ve died more than four decades prior, serving in the Navy in the Pacific Theater.
Roy Wallin died in Rising Fawn, Georgia, in 2007. He was 89. By all rights, he should have died more than 60 years earlier when his Army unit was ambushed in the Philippines. He was awarded the Bronze Star—it came just a few years before he died, better late than never. Roy was my step-grandfather.
These three men never saw the World War II Memorial because it took whomever is in charge of those things too long to build it; it just opened in 2004, nearly 60 years from the close of the war. But now I have a chance to raise money to send other heroes on the trip my grandfathers never got to take.
Through “Run with Ray,” I’m raising money for the Honor Flight. I will never be as brave as these Hoosiers were, so I hope that running 200 miles between now and the next Indy Honor Flight on September 7 will help raise awareness—and a few dollars, through your donations—to help get another veteran to Washington. I also hope running will honor the memory of my grandfathers, for whom I would have given anything for the chance to accompany on such a flight.
It costs $450 to send one veteran on the flight. Even if you have just a few bucks to spare, the Indy Honor Flight sure could use them. You can donate (tax deductible!) to Run with Ray at wibc.com/RunWithRay. Please designate your donations as being for Run With Ray for the Indy Honor Flight under the PayPal special instructions. Let’s let our remaining WWII veterans know that we haven’t forgotten what they went through to give us the lives we have.
Photo of Lieutenant Thomas Strawn courtesy of Jeff Malet Photography. Lt. Strawn turned 100 on August 3, 2013, and was flown to Washington, D.C., on the inaugural Indy Honor Flight last year.